DAYTON – It was clear moments after the opening tip in Wednesday’s first game of the First Four that Texas Southern’s Aaric Murray was the most talented guy on the floor. But not even a player with the talent of LeBron James can win a basketball game all by himself. It takes a team effort on offense and defense typically, and the Tigers didn’t get enough of that as Cal Poly blitzed the Tigers, 81-69 to move onto the Round of 64.
Texas Southern was one of the worst adjusted defenses in the country -- worst in the tournament according to KenPom rankings -- and it sure looked like one against Cal Poly. The Tigers weren’t rotating on the perimeter, weren’t communicating on screens and weren’t boxing out or protecting the lane. The Mustangs shot 57 percent for the game and had no trouble getting open looks. Chris Eversley led the way Cal Poly, finishing with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
This continues an unlikely run for Cal Poly, which was sitting at 10-19 heading into the Big West tournament on March 13. The Mustangs knocked off UC Santa Barbara, top-seeded UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge to earn a place in the First Four and now finds itself in the round of 64 with a shot at knocking off unbeaten No. 1 seed Wichita State. A number one seed has never lost to a 16-seed, and it’s hard to see the Mustangs pulling off the shocker (I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry), but it was hard for anyone except Joe Callero to to envision Cal Poly playing in the NCAA tournament at all just a few weeks ago. And yet, here they are.
"We've kind of raised our head and got a little national attention and now we'll have two more days of national exposure for Cal Poly," Callero said. "I think our website will be a little more active in the next 48 hours trying to figure out who is Cal Poly. And it's pronounced San Luis Obispo. Not San Louie. But we'd like to go to St. Louis next. That will work."
The formidable Murray certainly got his stats. He scored in a variety of ways, using his length and athleticism to finish with 38 points on 14-of-23 shooting. He even flashed a three-point shot, hitting three of his five attempts. Unfortunately the SWAC defensive player of the year didn’t show the same sort of effort on that end of the floor, finishing with just two rebounds and one block against a Cal Poly team that ranks 203rd in the country in effective height.
Play SI's Bracket Challenge for a shot at $1 million! The former LaSalle and West Virginia player has grown up a lot playing for Mike Davis, but if he’s got any hope of playing at the next level he’s going to need to show more consistent effort than he did against the Mustangs. If he’s not drafted, he’ll be an intriguing Summer League prospect with the skillset he possesses.